Europe’s most extensive collection of Pop Art, the third-largest Picasso collection in the world, one of the most important collections of German Expressionism, outstanding works from the Russian avant-garde, and an excellent collection on the history of photography: Today the Museum Ludwig is home to one of the most important collections of twentieth- and twenty-first-century art in the world. And, unlike royal collections, it owes its existence to the extraordinary dedication of private citizens. The cornerstone for the founding of the museum was laid in 1976 with a donation of 350 works of modern art to the city of Cologne by the collectors Peter and Irene Ludwig.
When Josef Haubrich gave his art collection to the city of Cologne just after the end of World War II in 1946, it was seen by the people of Cologne as a message from a better world. After they were long believed to be lost, paintings by German Expressionists and other modernist artists who were persecuted during the war and deemed “degenerate” suddenly belonged to the citizens of the city. Much later, this would form the cornerstone for the collection at the Museum Ludwig, and thus one of the most important museums for modern and contemporary art in Europe.
This donation from the Cologne lawyer is now known as the at Haubrich Collection at the Museum Ludwig. It includes central works of Expressionism and the New Objectivity, with masterpieces such as Otto Dix’s Portrait of Dr. Hans Koch (1921) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Halbakt mit Hut (1911) as well as works by Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, August Macke, Heinrich Hoerle, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, and Paula Modersohn-Becker.
Exactly 30 years later, another spectacular donation to the city of Cologne caused a sensation and led to the founding of Museum Ludwig as an independent institution: in 1976, Peter and Irene Ludwig donated their unique collection of art from the 1960s and 1970s to the city, including numerous masterpieces of American Pop Art, on the condition that the city build a museum for the new collection. In 1986, the building designed by the architects Peter Busmann and Godfried Haberer between the cathedral, the Rhine, and the Hauptbahnhof was opened. (More about the history of the Museum Ludwig)
Since the mid-1960s, Peter and Irene Ludwig had been devoted collectors of American Pop Art, which was still relatively unknown and revolutionary in Germany at the time and only began to attract attention from the broader public with documenta 4 in Kassel. In addition to Roy Lichtenstein’s famous MMaybe – A Girl’s Picture (1965) and Claes Oldenburg’s Soft Washstand from the same year, Tom Wesselmann’s Great American Nude No. 98 (1967) became part of the Ludwigs’ collection after being featured at documenta.
Today the Museum Ludwig is home to the largest collection of American Pop Art outside the United States. In addition to the aforementioned works, the collection includes numerous important works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns.
The collection at the Museum Ludwig cannot be adequately described without mentioning the works by the exceptional artist Pablo Picasso. Thanks to three donations from Peter and Irene Ludwig, Cologne is now home to the third-largest Picasso collection after Paris and Barcelona. This includes not only paintings from all the artist’s creative periods such as Harlequin with Folded Hands (1923) and Woman with Artichoke (1941), but also numerous ceramics and sculptures such as the original plaster casts of the Woman with Pram (1950) and the monumental Tête de femme (Dora Maar) (1941). The fact that Picasso valued drawing and printmaking so highly within his oeuvre throughout his life is also apparent in the collection at the Museum Ludwig: it is the only public institution to have all three of the master’s major series of prints: Suite Vollard (1930–37), Suite 345 (1968), and Suite 156 (1970–71), along with numerous other works on paper.
The Ludwigs' comprehensive collection of "Russian Avant-garde" from the years 1905-1935 was donated to the Museum Ludwig in 2011. Artists such as Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Alexander Rodschenko and Kazymyr Malevych believed in the utopia of an art that would serve a classless society. Their innovative works, ranging from folklore to abstraction, have had a great influence on art up to the present day. The Museum Ludwig has one of the largest collections in the West.
The term “Russian avant-garde,” which was established in the West, neglects identities and traditions of artists who identified as belonging to territories that are now (and in some cases also were at the time) independent states. In particular in Ukraine in the 1920s, after the Bolshevik victory over the country, there were strong aspirations for autonomy. Like many others, artists such as Alexandra Exter, Kazymyr Malevych, Oleksandr Bohomazov, and Vasyl Yermilov belonged to circles of artists that transcended borders, yet their Ukrainian background continually figured in their work and in their personal lives. They marked the beginning of a Ukrainian tradition of visual art and founded schools in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa.
Mark Rothko’s brilliant, meditative color fields, Frank Stella’s graphic patterned paintings, Jackson Pollock’s famous drip paintings, and Morris Louis’s reduced, colorful stripes are just a few examples from the Museum Ludwig’s important collection of abstract tendencies from the 1960s. Works by minimal and conceptual artists such as Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Eva Hesse as well as abstract sculptures by David Smith show that the collection is not just limited to paintings.
The Museum Ludwig collection also reflects earlier abstract tendencies from the 1950s and 1960s in Europe, such as Jean Dubuffet, Lucio Fontana, Pierre Soulages, Wols, and Hans Hartung. Artists of the German Art Informel movement such as K. O. Götz and Bernard Schultze, whose estate the Museum Ludwig has kept since 2005, are also represented. With the most comprehensive collection of works by Ernst Wilhelm Nay in a museum, the Museum Ludwig also holds an important group of abstract paintings and drawings ranging from modernism to the post-war period.
The history of art in the Rhineland region is represented with key works by artists such as Joseph Beuys, Andreas Gursky, Jörg Immendorff, Candida Höfer, Martin Kippenberger, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, and Rosemarie Trockel.
The graphics collection at the Museum Ludwig comprises some 3,000 drawings and nearly 10,000 prints. One focus is Expressionism, and another is works by Picasso: in addition to a large number of drawings, the Museum Ludwig also has all the artist’s series of prints.
The collection is continually expanded through purchases and donations extending up to the present. It now includes the complete editions of Marcel Broodthaers, Sigmar Polke, Lucy McKenzie, and the Guerrilla Girls, as well as representative works by Andrea Büttner, Miriam Cahn, Sister Corita, Lubaina Himid, and many others.
In addition to these focuses, the Museum Ludwig offers an overview of the most important artistic movements and media of the twentieth century.
The collection includes works of Abstract Expressionism by Mark Rothko, Frank Stella, and Jackson Pollock, Minimalist and conceptual artists such as Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Eva Hesse, European tendencies from the 1950s and 1960s with artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Lucio Fontana, Pierre Soulages, Wols, and Hans Hartung, as well as film and video art, installations, and performance works from recent decades. The history of art in the Rhineland region is represented with key works by artists such as Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Rosemarie Trockel, and Martin Kippenberger.
With some 70,000 works, the Museum Ludwig has an important and extensive collection of photography from the early days of the medium to the present, and is one of the first museums of modern and contemporary art to devote a separate collection to photography in 1977. (More about the photography collection at the Museum Ludwig)
The photography collection includes early daguerreotypes, important artistic photographs ranging from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries, albums, and portfolios, as well as extensive materials on the cultural history of the medium. Here, too, it was private collectors who laid the foundation for the photography collection in 1977 with purchases and donations from the collection of L. Fritz and Renate Gruber, who maintained close contacts with photographers in Germany and abroad.
The collection has been expanded into the present in recent decades with purchases and donations of works by Jeff Wall, Thomas Ruff, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Sherrie Levine, to name just a few.
The Museum Ludwig also holds lesser-known works that are nonetheless an important part of the collection, including artists from Africa, Asia, and Latin America such as Xu Bing, Kcho, Cai Guo-Qiang, Haegue Yang, Teresa Burga, Bodys Isek Kingelez, and Georges Adéagbo, to name just a few.
This global orientation of the collection will become increasingly important in the future. The area of contemporary art extends to the present. It is continually expanded with new acquisitions and donations, most recently including works by Minerva Cuevas, Diango Hernández, Anne Imhof, Oscar Murillo, Avery Singer, Nil Yalter and Heimo Zobernig. After all, a collection is never complete.
You may find our collection online here: www.museum-ludwig.kulturelles-erbe-koeln.de